Formula for Growing Rose Bushes

Getting Over the Thorny Issues of Caring for These Iconic Flowers

Pink roses (image) provide nice color. These shrubs are a traditional favorite.
Roses are a great choice to achieve landscaping color throughout the summer. David Beaulieu

Is growing rose bushes easy? Well, while some varieties may be finicky, there need not be any great mystery, in general, surrounding the growing of this traditional favorite, and some types are even easy to grow. The formula for success is a well-known one, since it is a formula that the average landscape plant lives (or dies) by:

sun + water + drainage + rich soil = success in growing roses

Roses can range in form from miniature shrubs to sprawling climbers.

Once you're committed to following the formula for growing roses, for maximum success you'll simply have to tweak the formula a bit and add some extras. For instance:

  1. While roses like six hours of sun per day, it does matter what part of the day those six hours come from. Six hours of morning sun is preferable to six hours of afternoon sun, for two reasons. First of all, rose foliage prefers to be dry. The quicker the dampness from the night is burned off the foliage, the less likely disease is to become a factor. Secondly, the afternoon sun is often excessively hot. Roses profit from some afternoon shade.
  2. Roses need a lot of water (how much "a lot" is will depend, of course, on many factors). As in the case of sunlight hours (see above), not all rose-watering methods are created equal. On the average, it is best to water roses twice a week -- and to water them thoroughly. It would be better to water twice per week deeply than to apply four shallower, less thorough waterings over the same time period.
  1. Avoid late-evening watering, which could foster powdery mildew, which is a very common disease among rose plants. Tip: That warning makes sense if you remember that this is a fungal disease. A fungus thrives under moist conditions, right? By watering at the end of the day, you are not giving the sunlight a chance to dry things out before night falls. The result? That moisture hangs around all night, creating optimal conditions for powdery mildew. 
  1. For the same reason, avoid watering roses from above. Getting the leaves wet will only invite an infestation of powdery mildew. Instead, apply the water at ground level.
  2. To keep insect pests off your roses, try companion planting with garlic. And once per week, while watering your roses, mix some dishwashing soap into the water and apply this "insecticidal soap" to your bushes (of course, there are also true insecticidal soaps that you can buy).
  3. For fertilizing roses, a monthly feeding of rose food is recommended.
  4. As always, soil pH is a consideration that goes hand-in-hand with fertilizing. Roses grow best in a pH ranging from 6.5 to 6.8.
  5. Maintaining the correct soil pH level is especially important when it comes to the uptake of phosphorus, which is the P in the NPK series of numbers you see on fertilizer packages. While it is critical that your roses receive sufficient phosphorus, Carolyn Elgar warns (on Rose.org) against overcompensating by continually adding phosphorus (you can end up with too much of a good thing).
  1. If all that sounds a bit intimidating, Jill Barnard, also writing for Rose.org, simplifies matters by recommending that beginners use a 10-10-10 rose fertilizer, "applied every four weeks."
  2. Soils with good drainage are best for rose growing. When improving the soil through the use of soil amendments, do not forget to promote drainage by incorporating peat moss.

Care for Roses on the Landscape: Overwintering, Mulching, Spacing

  1. In cold climates, if you really want to make sure your rose bushes are protected, practice a winterizing method called the "Minnesota Tip."
  2. Regardless of the season of the year, apply 2 or 3 inches of mulch over the soil around rose bushes.
  3. Growing rose bushes in conditions where adequate spacing is not provided is an open invitation to powdery mildew. Let your roses breathe: Do not plant them too closely together. Follow spacing requirements for each particular variety when purchasing rose bushes, as indicated on the plant label.

These are some of the basics of growing roses. Not too difficult, right? In fact, since there's a logical reason behind all these tips, they should be easy to remember. If you're still hesitant, Candy Oh! Vivid Red is an example of a type of Rosa that is particularly easy to grow.

Pruning and Deadheading Roses

Pruning rose bushes is one of the trickier operations for gardeners new to this aspect of horticulture. Here is some excellent information on the subject of pruning. The proper type of pruners to use is a set of bypass pruners, not anvil pruners (the latter can crush the plant's stem).

One aspect of the task that is somewhat debated is whether or not to promote outward-facing shoots when pruning rose bushes. That is, pruning tends to generate a lateral cane at the node below your cut. You can influence the shape of the shrub by making your cut either just above an outward-facing leaf bud or an inward-facing leaf bud. An argument in favor of selecting an outward-facing bud is that you promote growth away from the shrub's center, which facilitates air flow and decreases the chance that you'll experience problems with mildew. But an expert at the American Rose Society disputes that this method need to be taken as a universal principle.

The idea behind deadheading roses is the same as it is for any other plant. Removing spent blooms from rose bushes is a way of channeling plant energy into areas where it is needed more.

Selecting Rose Bushes: What Each Type Has to Offer:

  1. Hybrid tea rose bushes are the most popular, because they put out a big rose on a straight stem. 
  2. Polyanthas produce dense clusters of small flowers on a dwarf rose bush. 
  3. Floribunda rose bushes are a cross between the hybrid teas and the polyanthas. 
  4. Grandifloras produce large rose clusters on long stems.

Other options for rose bush growers include miniatures, climbers, tree roses and old-time varieties. Do not be fooled by so-called "black roses"; that designation evokes intriguing images, but the flowers are really only a deep red (for a picture, see What Black Roses Mean).

Preparing the Planting Bed

Soil in rose beds should be conditioned properly to a depth of 3 feet, as outlined in the following steps provided by Hometime.com:

  1. Remove about 1.5 feet of soil in depth.
  2. Spread a layer of organic amendment about 3 inches thick over the bottom of the hole.
  3. Dig down into the soil another 1.5 feet and turn that over, mixing in the organic amendment.
  4. Shovel the first foot of soil back into the bed and spread another 3-inch layer of amendments over that.
  5. Optional: Add bone meal, which promotes root growth. You can also use fertilizers designed specifically for roses.
  6. Till the bed with a rototiller to mix the layers together.
  7. Now you can dig the hole in which your rose bush will sit. Make it approximately 2 feet x 2 feet x 2 feet. What about that extra foot in depth that you've already prepared for? That's for drainage. For further planting instructions, see below.

Planting Bare Root Rose Bushes

You can buy the more expensive container-grown rose bushes and plant them in the ground, but why would you want to? Bare root planting is safe for the plants and economical for you. The most difficult chore in the planting may well be the initial pruning that you have to do. The height of the canes should be reduced to 6-8 inches. It will probably seem a shame to be hacking down the canes this way before the rose bush has even had a chance to grow. But it's a necessary step: The root system is too meager at this point to support much growth above ground. Trim off damaged roots, too, since they'll only invite disease. For a detailed look at the subject, see this article on planting bare root rose bushes. Let's restrict ourselves here merely to emphasizing the importance of one trick of the trade, the reason behind which may not be immediately obvious.

Novices to rose bush growing are informed to follow bed preparation with digging a hole and mounding up a cone of soil within that hole. You may wonder what purpose such a cone serves. Draping the young roots over this cone is meant to give them some direction in life. Being young and foolish, if not shown the proper direction to take, they may wander aimlessly. Roots need to be encouraged to grow down, deep. The cone guides them down just this path. Shallow root growth is to be discouraged, because such roots are exposed to summer heat and winter cold -- neither of which is good for them. By encouraging deep root penetration right at the outset, you're taking a major step towards successful rose bush growing.